Monday, August 15, 2022

San Antonio Migrant Tragedy: 53 Crime Deaths and a Failed U.S. Migration System

Emergency services in San Antonio were called out on June 27 after what appeared to be the deadliest migrant smuggling incident at the U.S.-Mexico border region in recent decades.

More than 50 undocumented migrants were found dead – including 27 Mexicans, 14 Hondurans, seven Guatemalans and two Salvadorans – in an abandoned truck on the outskirts of the city. They suffocated due to very high temperature in the truck. At least 10 more migrants were taken to hospital.

Authorities detained four suspects, including the driver of the truck who initially tried to pretend to be one of the survivors, only to later claim he did not know the air conditioning in the truck had stopped working. If convicted, he will face the death penalty.

Despite being one of the most dangerous border crossings in the world, the US-Mexico is also incredibly busy. In May 2022, there was a record high of 239,416 “encounters” (measuring opportunities in which border patrols discover undocumented migrants trying to cross) along the U.S. southwestern border and a projection of 2 million encounters for the year. Unfortunately, it was reported that 650 prospective migrants died in 2021 when they tried to cross.

Extreme poverty, a lack of jobs, violence, criminal gangs and drug cartels, climate change and natural disasters all force people from South America, Central America and Mexico to embark on the dangerous illegal journey to a better life in the USA. Border restrictions and a lack of legal routes to migrate contribute to migrants’ decision to turn to smugglers.

US President Joe Biden has tried to lift his predecessor’s pandemic-era public health policy that enables border guards to expel migrants (including asylum seekers) quickly. But his attempt was rejected by a Texas judge. The federal government has said it will appeal against the ruling, but this kind of draconian measure is another reason why prospective migrants seek the help of human traffickers or, as they are known in these parts: “coyotes”.

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‘Coyotes’ and ‘polleros’

Many migrants are willing to pay up to US $ 8,000 to US $ 10,000 (£ 6,600- £ 8,350) dollars to a migrant smuggler. People who want to come across the border to the US often have family members living there who help them with these costs. But all too often migrants place their lives – and often those of their families – in the hands of these coyotes or “polleros”, as they are also known.

The difference between the two classes of migrating smugglers is important. A coyote tends to bring migrants across the border through rough, often wild, terrain.

A Polero (to the people transporting chickens in a box) tends to bring people hidden in a vehicle. There are also more sophisticated smugglers who belong to a network of smugglers, who produce fake papers or bribe migration officers and logistically organize more complex transportation of migrants.

These migrating smugglers are, not surprisingly, profit-driven. Stories abound in ruthless coyotes who take advantage of migrants (financially or sexually) or leave them in the desert where they then fall prey to kidnappers and other criminals. But not all coyotes consider themselves criminals. In the words of one human trafficker who spoke to journalists in 2021: “It is not a crime that you were born here, and you want to get out of poverty. I like to help people. ”

Caravan: Prospective migrants to the US gather at the National Institute of Migration in the city of Tapachula in southern Mexico.
EPA-EFE / Juan Manuel Blanco

But the overall responsibility for the tragedy in San Antonio must lie with the broken migration system between Mexico and the US, which does not provide nearly enough visas for Mexican workers who want to cross over to accept work in the US. There are ongoing efforts to alleviate the problem – the US will offer 300,000 work visas to Mexicans and Central Americans when Mexican President López Obrador visits Washington on July 12.

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Politicization of migration issues

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott blamed Biden’s open border migration policy for the disaster, saying the incident showed the deadly consequences of Biden’s “refusal to enforce the law.”

The politicization of migration issues intensified during Donald Trump’s time in the White House as both sides doubled their traditional approach: Republicans supported a more closed, anti-migrant system, while Democrats tended to favor more humane measures, against – for example – the separation of children from their parents at the border.

López Obrador was very clear that the blame for San Antonio must rest with the USA: “It [the tragedy] happens because there is also human trafficking and a lack of control, in this case, on the border between Mexico and the United States and within the United States.

Prevention of future migration tragedies

The Mexican president calls for a bilateral approach that will focus more on improving conditions on the Mexican side of the border, so as to reduce the impetus for illegal crossing into the US: “This [the tragedy] is a bitter proof that we must insist on supporting people so that they do not have to leave their villages. ”

That was the thrust of the recently signed Los Angeles Declaration. It was released after the recent Summit of the Americas, held in Los Angeles in early June. The central idea of ​​the declaration is to increase legal routes of migration to combat migrant smuggling, but also to focus on increasing the quality of life and security across Latin America.



Read more: Top of the Americas: Biden’s attempt to unite the region on migration begins shaky


Depressingly enough, despite the deaths in San Antonio, a new caravan of migrants has already formed on the way from Tapachula, in southern Mexico. It turns out that the quality of life and security in their homelands is so poor that many thousands would rather risk their lives in the hands of the coyotes if it means a shot at the “American dream”.

Nation World News Desk
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